Friday, June 26, 2009

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Since its creation in 1945, the United Nations has worked to eradicate torture. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 5, proclaims that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

On 10 December 1984, the UN General Assembly (Resolution 39/46) adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). This Convention, which entered into force on 26 June 1987, obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

It was an important step to acknowledge that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal. Proposed by Denmark, the UN General Assembly in December 1997 marked the historic date - 26 June - as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

When I read Sister Dianna Ortiz's book, The Blindfold's Eyes, the reality of torture came into painful focus for me. What I find even more disturbing is that the men torturing her (and many others) were trained at Ft Benning Georgia at the School of the Americas. To learn more about America's school for assassins visit here. Torture is terrorism in its worst form. It isn't about getting information, it's about sending messages. The message that the U.S. has sent to the world by allowing our leaders to torture without any culpability is that we all endorse this cruelty. Why do the women at Abu Ghraib want someone to kill them?

From Daily Kos' partial transcript of a video (link to REAL stream) of Seymour
Hersh speaking at an ACLU event. He says the US government has videotapes of
children being raped at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

" Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there.
Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out
to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out
saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what
happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in
cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling.
And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that
your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."

These are our children raping their children. Our boys and girls proudly going to serve their country, and then being turned into the worst monsters imaginable. How can we live with this, and how can our children live with this on their souls? Why do you think so many of our brave soldiers are coming back and killing themselves? This is not just torture, but child pornography of the worst kind. This is what Obama's administration does not want to see released. So I'm sure the CIA is busy with the shredders and incinerators. The evidence can be destroyed, but the scars and hate will live on and grow.

If you want to better understand how a good American kid can become an evil torturer watch this TED talk with Phil Zimbardo, or read his book, The Lucifer Effect. Be forewarned, the TED talk has graphic scenes of violence from Abu Ghraib.

If you feel as angry as I that our government allows this terrible inhumanity to continue, please take time to visit TASSC and/or NRCAT and see what you can do to stop this.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Back to the Blog

I've been too long gone from the blog world. New love blossomed this Spring and I found myself lost in that wonderfully warm and fuzzy world of fresh beginnings. But the world has continued to spin, people have continued to fight and die, there are new widows and orphans and more pain. There were also small victories happening too. On February 13th, Umar Jaleel, a Sri Lankan peaceworker with Nonviolent Peaceforce was kidnapped by nine armed men from the NP house in Mindanao in the Philippines. He was released by his captors last week, ending the four month ordeal. His freedom was not bought with ransom, but rather with words. You can learn more about Jaleel's release here.

The GLBT world community is gaining recognition of their human rights after many decades of nonviolent struggle. In March, Sweden became the seventh country to recognize same-sex marriages. Although the US is not quite there yet, just this month New Hampshire became the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage. Ironically, California slid backwards in this effort, but only temporarily.

As we celebrate Jaleel's release, and celebrate the growing recognition of love and relationship in our world, we also watch the unfolding trial of another nonviolent hero, Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi was coming up for release from house arrest, but that possibility is being challenged. An American man violated the terms of her house arrest by swimming to her island home, believing he'd recieved a message from God to protect Suu Kyi. Her generous heart could not force the exhausted man to leave without giving rest and food first. As a result she is facing up to five years in a prison known for torture and harsh conditions. The world is not standing by idly, but letters, phone calls and protests are growing as the junta drags out the proceedings. If love calls you to act on behalf of this great woman visit Amnesty International for ideas. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is also posting actions as they learn about them.

Here at home things have been grim as I listen to Cheney explain his great fondness of waterboarding. Reviewing the Pew survey on American attitudes toward torture shows that 4 out of 10 Americans believe torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified. If we look at the demographics more closely we find that this number increases to 6 out of 10 for Southern Evangelicals. I find it troubling that these self proclaimed warriors of God entertain the idea that threat power and pain are the best methods for getting answers and control over others. The life of the nonviolent, self-sacraficing Jesus was clearly wasted on them.

Of course when the graphic photos and videos slip out the crap rolls downhill and it's our young girls and boys in uniform that are labeled "bad apples" and are portrayed as going off on their own to torture. Philip Zimbardo, notorious for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment has much to offer on this topic. I do warn that the images he shows of Abu Ghraib in this TED talk, even edited as they are, are quite graphic. If these images trouble you, can you even begin to imagine the ones that our President has decided to keep from us because they are "too troubling". Zimbardo gives us a way to the future. Instead of teaching our children to go with group think, let's teach them to be heros and nonviolent heros at that.

In closing, we've seen lots of ups and downs in the world of nonviolence over the last three months, but at least we're seeing both. In honor of our hero Aung San Suu Kyi, I will end with quote by her and with the wish that we all have the opportunity to live up to our full potential. "Human beings the world over need freedom and security that they may be able to realize their full potential."